A planned public meeting Wednesday on rebuilding of the Interstate 95 service stations in Fairfield has turned into a political tug -of-war, with two state legislators charging each other with interfering for political gain.
State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-132, said Tuesday that state Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-133, persuaded the state Department of Transportation to withdraw from participating in a meeting on barriers that neighbors have been lobbying be built around the local rest stops.
"I'm just very disappointed that my constituents are being deprived of a meeting with the DOT that I worked hard to set up, and I'm just confused as to why Rep. Fawcett would interfere in constituent service I'm doing in my district," Kupchick said. Fawcett, according to Kupchick, apparently wanted to get involved in the issue to win votes in her race for the state Senate seat being vacated by Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, whose five-town district includes Fairfield.
"I can't come up with any other conclusion than Rep. Fawcett was using this issue in a political way, which is unfortunate," said Kupchick.
Fawcett, who represented the neighborhood around the rest areas until the redistricting that followed the 2010 census, said Tuesday she just wanted to make sure every voice was heard in the discussion.
"We are all very passionate and determined to see the Exit 22 rest areas surrounded by safety barriers or some type of fencing to better protect our community," Fawcett said. "The meeting for this week was planned last minute and did not give the neighbors time to organize. Some leaders involved with the project, including myself and First Selectman (Michael) Tetreau, had not been invited, although the invite said we would be in attendance."
Fawcett countered that it was Kupchick who was grandstanding.
"Our request of DOT was to reschedule the meeting so everyone committed to the project could participate," she said. "The commissioner personally reached out to Rep. Kupchick to coordinate a better time. She refused and left the DOT in the difficult position of having to cancel the meeting at this time."
The community has been trying for years to get sound barriers installed along Interstate 95's southbound rest stop at Exit 22 to reduce noise and dust, and address other issues.
Fawcett and Kupchick each said Tuesday they have been working on the issue for the last year or more, pointing to a similar project in Darien six years ago that included 20-foot-tall sound and safety barriers that the Fairfield project does not have.
According to email correspondence between Kupchick's office and the DOT, the June 25 meeting was scheduled with DOT officials on June 12.
Kupchick said she plans to hold the meeting without DOT officials as scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Board of Education conference room at 501 Kings Highway East.
"We canceled our participation in the meeting due to a significant change in expectations for the meeting,"
Judd Everhart, spokesman for the DOT, said, "The expectation CTDOT had was that the meeting would be an opportunity for all residents, all state legislators and local elected officials to meet together to identify issues for CTDOT and Project Service to address. It became clear that the meeting was not convenient for all participants to attend. Lacking any confirmation of broad stakeholder participation, it was not clear that the meeting would be a productive forum.."
The agency is working on a letter, Everhart said, that will update local officials on the rest area work, which has a May 2015 deadline for completion.